Youth Soccer: Where Do the Sane Folks Go?

The local paper - The Oregonian - ran an interesting item today on the push by the state's "elite clubs" to form a more competitive league within a the youth soccer set up. The details of the story are interesting enough - I'll ask that you read the article if you're curious - but the general thrust of the article presents an interesting divide in the youth soccer world. On one hand, you have the "Up with Kids!" rec leagues described in the article's lead - where "everyone gets in the game -- and gets a trophy" - while, on the other, you've got the "Psycho Leagues" with bellowing coaches, insane parents, and a fun-sucking premium on winning, winning, and winning.

I've got some thoughts on this, but before digging in, I do feel compelled to insert one BIG CAVEAT: I have zero direct contact with youth soccer so take my observations with that understanding.

Whenever I read this, my first thought is always, where the hell do the rest of us - that is, the normal people - fit in this scheme? In other words, where do you send your kid when you love the idea of them playing soccer, but don't want to put them under the wing of some resume-polishing nut-job, who will ruthlessly suppress all opportunities for expression that don't immediately contribute to winning? And that doesn't even get into the question of the time (believe it or not, I do work; so does my wife) and money (though I'm not terribly well compensated either).

And what if you think it's sub-moronic to give trophies to kids just for showing up? What if you believe there's real value in teaching your kid that losing does happen - especially when you phone it in - but that losing is instructive, motivating, and, most importantly, nothing like the end of the world? I have real contempt for the "everyone is a winner" horseshit and wouldn't believe it actually existed if I hadn't actually seen the trophies.

The really sad thing for me is that I've found my niche as a player - but, crucially, only since becoming an adult. See, I am, or was (it's been a while) a coed player, both indoor and outdoor. I've found coed leagues to be the place where people show up, they try hard enough, and the players do want to win; sure, every so often, you'll play with a guy (and it has always been a guy in my experience) who wants to win, but they're far and few between; moreover, most people on the team either ignore or mock him in any case.

(I'll never forget the "pocket-midfielder" (e.g. short dude with glasses) with whom I played on a team in DC; we gave up a goal and I remember him charging at me, eyes popping, screaming at me, "You've got to get angry! ANGRY!!! We're not losing to these guys!" I still cherish the belief that the look I gave in return was sufficient to embarrass him. If that wasn't, I'm hoping my favorite question, "Do you see any pro scouts in the stands?", did the trick.)

The point is, you show up to these games, you have fun; if you're feeling a little jiggy, you try to pull something off; you either look like an idiot or genius, but no one cares all that much. I have to admit that the adult recreational leagues in Portland, Oregon are pretty well organized. It's not all that hard to find a niche if you're willing to try on different teams. I played on an all-men's team not that long ago and, as much as I liked the guys I played with, they were too into it for me. So, I parted ways and returned to my coed teams. Pretty simple.

So does this exist for kids? Do they organize teams into divisions, allowing kids and parents to find a place where they feel comfortable, to try on varying degrees of pressure. If not, why not? Why can't you have a division or two for the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality (though these kids will get eaten alive in a public school) another couple on the top for the "Soccer Youth" - e.g. ardent disciples of the game - and a bunch in the middle for, well, the rest of us?

Returning to the article, yeah, the elite clubs should get their way here - though they ought to look at ways to make it affordable (and, ideally, teams of this sort should get thrown into the same competition as the youth teams for Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs). But they really need to have the tiers in between. Something where kids can go, have fun, and experience real competition without having their nipples wired to ensure "maximum effort" or exile on the bench. Is this really so hard?

1 comment:

Kendal said...

Rec, Comp, Premier, ODP - those were the leagues that I thought existed (at least in CT). You have the recreational league for the games that all kids should play equal amount of time in (at any age - it's rec). Competition teaches them that there are some who are better and you'll probably see less playing time - you usually travel within the state and enter some tournaments. Premier is for those crazy parents and kids who are die-hard and devote all their money and extra-curricular activity time to this beautiful game. And ODP, well, for the elite. It is broken down, for the most part, I don't know how much further you can go down with it...and I agree that it should be made more affordable at the more competitive levels - there's only so much fund raising you can do.